Students and halls staff react to Pastoral Review

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The University has faced criticism from students and halls staff following the announcement of changes to the pastoral provision in halls last week.

The report, released Monday 18th December, will see a number of changes to pastoral support in Bristol's halls of residence. When implemented, it will see the removal of Wardens and Deputy Wardens and reduce the number of Senior Residents by 2/3, prompting concerns that students will lose vital face-to-face support.

Three new hubs are proposed: Stoke Bishop hub, Clifton and Postgraduate hub and City Centre hub, with the potential for a Temple Quarter hub when that development is complete. Each will serve 2000-2500 students.

Currently, each hall has a Warden, a Deputy Warden and Senior Residents. Now, it is proposed each hub (comprised of multiple residences) will have a 'Residential Life Manager', five 'Residential Life Advisers' and a team of approximately 54 'Residential Life Mentors'. The 'Residential Life Manager' and 'Residential Life Mentors' will live on-site.

The 'Residential Life Mentors' will replace Senior Residents. They will still be students but will be paid for 10-12 hours a week doing 2 shifts instead of receiving a rent reduction as current Senior Residents do. There will be less than half the surrent number (reduced from 140 to 54) so the ratio of Senior Residents to students will rise from approximately 1:40 to 1:100.

The changes are expected to create £800,000 in savings, mainly due to a reduction in the amount spent on live-in staff accommodation. The university has not yet confirmed whether student rent will be reduced and maintain that 'this is not a cost-saving exercise'.

The review has also received attention from national and local publications such as The Guardian and The Bristol Post.

Students, current and former JCR committee members, Senior Residents and bar staff members have set up 'Keep our Communities' in opposition to the changes. On their Facebook page, it is stated: 'we firmly believe that the changes proposed by Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) will destroy hall communities, and will put student lives in danger through an impersonal, much smaller, and less accessible staff'.

According to their website, they hope to achieve:

  • A safe place for first year students- 'we believe that, should these changes be implemented, we will see devastating consequences'
  • To keep hall communities intact- 'staples of hall life will disappear, given that staff will simply not be invested enough in each hall to run them'
  • Keep student wellbeing and academic schools separate- 'a lot of the work will be shifted over to Academic Tutors in Schools. Senior Tutors have all expressed concern at this plan, due to the reduction in support for students'
  • Keep the alumni associations- 'the new proposal leaves a question mark over the future of these associations... if no one is keeping in touch with the alumni, students risk losing valuable opportunities'

Also in opposition to the proposed changes, Bristol student Leonardo De Rezende launched an online petition and told Epigram: 'the University is effectively trying to force these changes down the throat of the Halls. There is scope for reforming pastoral support, but the changes proposed are opposed by many residents, they misunderstand the actual role played by Senior Residents.' At the time of writing, the petition as 2018 signatures.

Professor Robert Vilain, current Warden of Wills Hall, sent an email to Wills Hall Association members (largely past students) last week outlining the changes. At the end of the email, he describes the action to replace the current 'pro-active' pastoral team as 'counter-productive'

'The drastic reduction in the number of people living within the hall communities, with 2-3, maybe 4 living in Wills, will almost certainly vitiate community development. How, in these circumstances, and without a dedicated JCR, can a cohesive social community develop?'

Describing himself as 'no stick-in-the-mud traditionalist, no reactionary anti-reformist', he continues to say: 'Change is necessary in Halls. Work should be done to make our pastoral support even better than it is, and to ensure that those delivering it are better trained and helped to deliver it. A review was necessary, but should have been properly informed by the staff that work in the residences, who were excluded from all discussions of the design of the new model. The current proposals are in my view not "well-managed change" and they represent a high risk to future students.'

Senior Residents have sent a letter to Simon Bray, Director of Residential and Hospitality Services, highlighting their concerns with the review. The letter begins: 'as a collective we are very concerned about the repercussions of the proposed changes to the welfare system' and 'we acknowledge a review of the welfare system is essential at this stage'.

News of the review has also prompted strong reactions from Bristol students on social media. One wrote: 'The University are spinning this as a good thing, bottom line is there will be less people on the ground who know students personally, can notice small changes in behaviour, and get to them early.'

Others defended the review with one student commenting: 'C'mon the current system clearly isn't working they're nt just scrapping it they're changing it and creating 15 full time jobs.'

Bristol SU have welcomes the proposals, with Student Living Officer Lucky Dube commenting: 'Bristol SU welcomes the review of the Residential Life (RL) model within the Division of Residences and Hospitality Service (RHS). We believe the proposed changes are a sensitive response to feedback and research gathered from our students'.

A University spokesperson said:

A University spokesperson said: 'Feedback in the University Strategy consultation made clear that our students wanted to see enhanced wellbeing and mental health support across the University - in Student Services, in academic schools and in our residences.

'The current Residential Life Service model is not fit for purpose. It was designed for a different era when we had far fewer students, far less diversity in our student body, a much more limited range of Halls, and when the complexity of mental health and wellbeing issues was much less than now. The current lack of visibility and accessibility to around-the-clock support has been an issue our students have consistently raised with us.

'The proposed new model is part of a 'whole institution' approach to student support providing a highly visible, accessible and comprehensive support to our students 24/7 and 365 days a year with staff on duty at all times of the day and night. All staff in residences will have this as their primary and only focus (not as an additional role as they currently do). They will be highly trained with many living on campus to help build relationships and respond quickly when required. They will be supported by student Residential Life Mentors who will also live on campus continuing to provide that much valued peer-to-peer assistance.

'We have taken on board best practice from other leading universities to create a model which once implemented we believe will be sector-leading. It will ensure we maintain the very strong sense of community in our Halls, including social spaces and community building activities, as well as the much-valued bond with our alumni community.

'To be clear, this is not a cost-saving exercise. The overall level of expenditure on student mental health and wellbeing institutionally will increase and although our current residential pastoral support is almost twice as expensive per student than the institutions with which we have benchmarked ourselves, any savings created through delivering a more cost-effective model will not increase University funds. They will solely be used to limit student rents, something which our students also feel very strongly about.'

Featured image Epigram / Hannah Worthington


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AUTHOR

Alex Boulton

Editor in Chief 2017-18, Online Style Editor 2016-17. History student.

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